Greening the Whole Earth: Germany and the Greens

The green movement of early 1980's Germany spurred a political party, the Greens, worthy of international emulation.

| Summer 1984

  • The-Greens

  • The-Greens

In their call to "think globally and act locally" the Greens are challenging the basic assump­tions of both the left and the right. Called "the most interest­ing and provocative political party in Europe today," the Greens dub themselves an "anti-party party." In less than five years, they have rallied an unlikely coalition of housewives, farmers, peace workers, academics, merchants, ex-Marxists, retired gener­als and spiritual types to gain impressive electoral victories throughout Western Europe. Their pro­gram of ecological wisdom, social responsibility, grass-roots democracy, sexual equality and nonvi­olence at all levels offers compelling alternatives to the political stalemate we face in the United States. ^The Greens envision a society in which people have significant control over their lives while living in harmony with the natural environ­ment. The following report is largely derived from articles that appeared in recent issues of New Age Journal and TheNation, excerpted from Charlene Spretnak and Fritjof Capra's excellent new book, Green Politics: The Global Promise (Dutton). 

A ritual procession of twenty-seven people— in­cluding a nurse, a shop steward, a former general, a mason, several teachers, a veterinarian, a retired computer programmer, three engineers and a sci­entist, a bookseller, an architect, a journalist, a professor of agriculture, and a lawyer— walked through the streets of West Germany's capital on March 22, 1983, with a huge rubber globe and a branch of a tree that was dying from pollution in the Black Forest. They were accompanied by representatives from various citizens' movements and from other coun­tries. They entered the lower chamber of their national assembly, the Bundestag, and took seats as the first new party to be elected in more than thirty years. Even though they had previously won seats in city councils, county assemblies, and state legislatures, the four-year-old party had surprised nearly everyone by polling 5.6 percent of the national vote. The new parliamentarians insisted on being seated between the conservative party (Christian Democrats), who sat on the right side of the chamber, and the liberal-left party (Social Democrats). They called themselves simply die Grünen, the Greens.

The relatively small Green Party, with 30,000 members, is changing the political cul­ture of West Germany in ways that are inspir­ing alternative political movements all over the world. Most of the media coverage of the Greens in this country has, unfortunately, been sensationalist, negative, or simply inac­curate. The New York Times has called them "volatile," "messianic," and "far-left," a charge repeated in nearly all its articles despite the fact that the Greens emphatically rejected many traditional leftist programs, especially those which lead to unqualified industrial growth. Readers of Time were informed that the Greens are "inchoate and unrealistic," driven by "romantic and dangerously simplis­tic longing." CBS's Sixty Minutes chose to fea­ture footage of several Greens at a costume party on Fasching (Mardi Gras), creating a bi­zarre visual impression.

This is not to say that American journal­ists are involved in a conspiracy against the Greens. The pejorative reporting is due, for the most part, to the usual lack of comprehen­sion that radically new ideas encounter, partic­ularly from political observers accustomed to thinking in terms of left and right. Rather than accepting the fragmentary conservative or liberal/left analyses of society's problems, Green politics begins with the recognition that the global problems currently threatening our survival are actually facets of one systemic cri­sis. Every aspect of our lives—health and live­lihood, the quality of the environment, social interactions, the economy, technology, poli­tics and government—is, in the holistic view of Green political theory, profoundly inter­connected. Politicians who argue about the merits of various short-term technological and economic "fixes" cannot, in the Greens' view, effectively address the issues. Resolutions will only be found if the entire web of our social and ecological relations is changed, and this, say the Greens, will involve profound trans­formations of our institutions, values, and ideas—hence the party's slogan: "We are neither left nor right; we are in front.”

It is not only the Greens' claim to a new approach to political issues but also the di­verse composition of the party itself that no doubt contributes to confusion among observ­ers. The Green Party attracts members from the entire political spectrum, most of whom are also activists in one or more of the citi­zens'  movements—ecology, anti-nuclear­ power, peace, feminism, and others. The Greens' purpose is to bring the challenging new questions of the citizens' movements into the forums of power and at the same time to channel back to these movements privileged information from government bodies. In the words of Roland Vogt, a cofounder of the party, the citizens' groups act as the "emergen­cy brakes of a runaway industrial society."

Most of the Greens are the sons and daughters of the "economic miracle genera­tion" who rebuilt Germany from the postwar rubble. But the Green Party also attracts mem­bers who are over 60 and remember a prewar childhood before processed food, extensive pollution, and nuclear weapons. All the Greens, through various paths of political de­velopment, came to realize during the 1970s that there was something wrong in "Model Germany."

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